Yesterday, a story went viral on the internet. Its headline: "11-Year-Old Boy Played in His Yard. CPS [Child Protective Services] Took Him, Felony Charge for Parents." The story, published on reason.com, said that a Florida mom's kids were taken away because she let her 11-year-old play in the yard unsupervised. It purported to contain an interview with the Florida mom. But critics are now questioning the veracity of the story, which gives few concrete details and is written by a woman who stands to gain from interest in free-range parenting.
Lenore Skenazy wrote the article. She is host of the reality show World's Worst Mom, which airs on the Discovery Life channel. In it, she goes to homes Supernanny-style and encourages parents to let go and allow their children more freedom. She is also the writer behind the “Free-Range Kids” movement, which advocates for giving kids more space and freedom to roam instead of constant surveillance and supervision.
But media folks aren't buying her story, because no names were given – not even the name of the city where it happened.
Jim Romenesko, a popular media blogger, posted this on Facebook:
Pennsylvania journalist Rich Jackson writes in an email:
"I call bullshit on this story. I asked the author [Lenore Skenazy] for any information, names, locations, that would allow me to verify it independently. She said she couldn't even name the city because the mother might lose her job."
When New Times asked Skenazy about the doubt, she replied, “I don't know why anybody would think I made this up.”
As for the identity of the people in the story and the city it took place in, Skenazy said that couldn't be disclosed because the mother might lose her job.
Read the whole story here, but here's a brief rundown:
One afternoon this past April, a Florida mom and dad I'll call Cindy and Fred could not get home in time to let their 11-year-old son into the house. The boy didn't have a key, so he played basketball in the yard. He was alone for 90 minutes. A neighbor called the cops, and when the parents arrived—having been delayed by traffic and rain—they were arrested for negligence.
Skenazy wrote that the parents were eventually charged with a third-degree felony. They were accused of leaving their child without food (even though he had eaten some snacks), water (there was a hose), and a bathroom. She wrote that the parents were strip-searched and the children were handed over to a relative who didn't want them, until in court, the 11-year-old convinced a judge to put him and his 4-year-old sibling back in the custody of his parents (because of course he preferred the free-range parenting).
All this sounds like similar shocking stories that have made the news recently. But because Skenazy — a former New York Daily News columnist who wrote a book about her parenting philosophy and has a reality-TV show called World's Worst Mom — didn't provide any specifics about the people supposedly involved or where this incident allegedly took place, some media folks got suspicious.
That's when Romenesko posted this on Facebook, which followed with many comments doubting Skenazy's Florida couple story.
New Times notes several flaws in her story: She uses the acronym CPS. In Florida, the agency that oversees child abuse allegations and foster homes is called the Department of Children and Families (DCF). She bizarrely claims that parents were not allowed to cross a county line because they had been charged with a felony. She also claims that there were charges in both civil and criminal court —- which makes little sense, as child neglect would typically be treated as a criminal offense.
Skenazy tells us that she's not surprised people doubt her story because it's ridiculous – that's why she wrote about it. But she stands by the truthfulness.
“I don't blame people for having their jaws dropped when they read something like this because it seems so incredibly outrageous and Kafka-esque,” she said. “And we all know CPS exists to save children from extreme harm, not from a bad day when a parent couldn't get home in time and the child is playing basketball.”
Nonetheless, she is adamant about not releasing any information about the parents who claim they were treated poorly by authorities. Even the Florida city this allegedly happened in is off-limits because the supposed mother in question feels her job might be in danger if word gets out, Skenazy claims.
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"[The mother] thinks that, and I believe her based on what she said,” explained Skenazy.
However, the “Free Range Kids” advocate says she'll prove the story is real. Late last night, Skenazy promised she would post court documents online to prove her story – as soon as she redacted the personal info and got the go-ahead from the mother..
At the time of this posting, those documents have not been posted.
Meanwhile, the story on Reason has 57,000 Facebook shares.